The Writing on the Wall

Divining the future of a city one mural at a time

For this piece, Nobbe researched the Powderhorn Park area and, with the aid of youth volunteers, composed a collage of visual and written elements. Then, using programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, she created a work that is physically akin to a giant color Xerox. But the mural doesn't seem cold or machine-tooled. From the street, in fact, the first thing an observer notices is the mural's painterly surface--images of a black man nuzzling his infant, or of an older white couple posing arm in arm.

In addition to its practical advantages, the use of computer technology is also one of the more potentially democratic techniques in the creation of murals. Other artists can bring their skills to a mural's creation--the work of photographers, for instance, can be integrated into the piece. And, because the technology is relatively easy to learn, people who don't consider themselves artists can play a greater role in designing and executing a wall painting.


Michael Dvorak


Juxtaposition Arts


Merit Printing

117 N. Second St.

Minneapolis * 2000

As with the other elements of hip hop--the DJ's dexterous flick on a turntable or the MC's quick-lipped sputter of rhymes and invective--the graffiti medium is not an inclusive art form. The use of spray cans is tricky, and you must work long hours to learn to paint a hard-edged straight line with an aerosol can.

"You have no contact with your surface," says Peyton. "But somehow you use this factory-made product, one that's not designed to produce art, to create." This elongated use of a building as canvas may be the premier example of legal graffiti in the Twin Cities. The colors are bright and attention-grabbing at first glance, but the design itself is quite intricate. Similarly, the figures are cartoonish, yet a closer look reveals how complex and carefully rendered they are. The mural is the work of 12 adult artists, including New York guest artists Crash and Daze, who familiarized the Juxtaposition students with new techniques. Look carefully and you will see Crash's elaborate signature being grabbed by the giant claw of a towering, box-shaped robot.

New York, of course, is where this style of graffiti originated. Peyton recalls seeing Style Wars--the seminal, quasi-documentary examination of the rise of hip-hop culture--as a boy on PBS. As for many Midwesterners Peyton's age--he's 32 years old--this was his first exposure to a new world of art. And the film, which followed a young graf stylist as he progressed from bombing subway trains to crafting elaborate public works for his neighborhood, left no doubt as to the trajectory graffiti artists imagined for themselves. They wouldn't be dodging the law forever.



Ta-coumba Aiken


Union Gospel Children's Mission

109 E. Ninth St.

St. Paul * 2000

Because they are often thought through and planned with a good deal of community involvement, and because they are typically crafted by several artists and even children, community murals are often created with an aesthetic of consensus in mind.

This mural, says Jack Becker, is unusual in that it represents "an individual artist's artistic statement." Continues Becker, "This piece is more free-form and gestural, which you don't see in a lot of murals downtown." Aiken, who works with several idiosyncratic styles of abstract imagery, refers to the composition of this particular set of motifs as "rhythm patterns." The piece is across the street from the Naomi Family Center. "Since women go there with kids to better their lives," Aiken says, "I thought a lot about what's going to give you that little spark, to help make your life better." The result was a continuous rainbow of colors, composed of lines at least six feet long.

Personal aesthetic aside, to the extent that creating murals throws artists out onto the streets, a certain engagement with the people of the neighborhood is inevitable. While finishing this mural last fall, one incident reminded Aiken, who has been painting murals since the early Seventies, of both the passage of time and the continuity that comes from remaining in the same community. "The guy that runs the parking lot remembered me from when I was painting the Schubert mural in downtown Minneapolis," says Aiken. "He was an attendant when I was painting there. Now he's president of the parking company."



Various Artists


2822 Lyndale Ave. S.

Minneapolis * 2001


I do believe they have some good programs. The problem is you can't tell, because the outside of their building is all graffiti. Graffiti says that you're an area in decline.

--city council member Lisa McDonald on
Intermedia Arts

When it comes to aesthetic environments people are comfortable living and working in, there are differences. Some people like glass and concrete tunnels they can drive their car through and not see any other human beings on their way to work. Some people want a lively, hip, even messy look. When you look at a lot of urban environments that are really alive, they can be messy. All that stimulation is what some people like.

--Tom Borrup, Intermedia Arts, on the differences in cultural preference in Minneapolis


When I'm walking out of Menards with 300 cans of spray paint, I still get looks and comments. I've gotten used to it.

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